Monday, October 31, 2011

Colombia's President Dissolves the DAS

President Juan Manuel Santos dissolved Colombia's scandal-plagued DAS (The Administrative Department of Security) earlier today (October 31). To those who are not familiar with the DAS, it is similar, but different from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Unlike the FBI, though, the DAS is also responsible for the immigration service of Colombia, which also issues visas to Colombian citizens.

The DAS' role is tasked in several areas, as it is responsible for providing security to state institutions and personalities, providing judiciary police services and serving as a counterintelligence service to both external and internal threats. Additionally, the agency enforces federal laws pertaining to drug trafficking and the neutralization of rebel and paramilitary groups in Colombia.

COMMENT: This is a formidable move on the part of President Santos, to eliminate a major federal law enforcement agency.

In recent years, the DAS was implicated in spying on presidential foes, including judges, reporters and human rights activists during the 2002-2010 administration of Santos' predecessor, former President Alvaro Uribe. Some DAS agents and officials also conspired with extreme-right militias that killed and displaced thousands and persecuted labor activists.

Uribe's first DAS chief, Jorge Noguera, was convicted last month of murder in the 2004 death squad killing of a left-wing university professor. A later DAS director, Maria del Pilar Hurtado, obtained political asylum in Panama with Uribe's help to avoid a fate similar to Uribe's former chief of staff, Bernardo Moreno. Moreno was jailed in July pending trial on criminal conspiracy charges for allegedly ordering illegal espionage. He says he is innocent.

About half the 6,000 DAS employees will go to the chief prosecutor's office, where many investigators will join the CTI investigators' corps. The CTI (Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación or Technical Investigation Team) is a division of La Fiscalía General de la Nación (Office of the Attorney General of Colombia). Its main function is to advise the Attorney General (Fiscal General) in the determination of policies and strategies related with the judicial police functions, in the topics as crime investigation, forensic services, genetic services and in the management of the technical and judicial information useful for penal investigation.

In making his announcement, with the incumbent director of the DAS by his side, Felipe Munoz, Santos emphasized that many in the DAS are unjustly criticized for the bad needs of a few. Munoz went on to say that 92% of the agency's employees will retain government jobs. He also said that Santos will announce the creation of a new intelligence agency later this week.

It was also not immediately clear as to how much US assistance the new agency might receive. Before the scandal, the DAS received some U.S. training and equipment, including a unit that worked closely with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The scandal broke in February 2009 after the news magazine, SEMANA, revealed the illegal spying on prominent Uribe foes. At least 20 current and former DAS officials have been jailed.

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